The highest yielding crop in the ADAS-run yield competition this season came from north-west Norfolk. David Jones looks at the key factors behind this bumper crop
Mark Means is passionate about his soil. Managing his fragile fertile silts on the edge of The Wash, especially after rain, is key to his exceptional wheat yields.
His soils are at the centre of his farming ethos whether it’s adding organic matter, minimising field traffic, staying away when wet and jet cleaning his 40-year-old clay drains.
The reward was a likely recording-breaking yield of a breadmaking wheat, with clear space between competing feed wheats in the ADAS Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) competition.
His silty clay loams are very good for allowing deep rooting and are moisture retentive, but they can easily slump and become anaerobic if overworked in wet weather.
“Soil structure, soil health and having a good team to try to improve it or enhance it are key to everything we do on the farm,” he says.
The result was a bumper yield of 13.41t/ha of the breadmaking variety Cordiale, nearly 1t/ha above the next highest yielding crop of a feed variety from a nearby farm just ten miles away.
Wheat is a key crop in his eight-year rotation as it is deep rooting and hence beneficial to soil structure compared with his spring crops of sugar beet, potatoes and vining peas.
“With the wheat crop we give it the Rolls-Royce treatment as it can improve the soil structure,” he adds.
A key part of his preparation is using a seven-furrow plough with seven subsoiler legs attached in the autumn ahead of a preceeding vining pea crops to help the structure of the soil.
“Soil structure, soil health and having a good team to try to improve it or enhance it are key to everything we do on the farm.”
Mark Means, north-west Norfolk farmer
The wheat crop he drilled in the autumn of 2012 gained from the improved soil structure and also the fertility left behind by the pulse crop.
He is keen to feed his soils to improve their organic matter with poultry manure, and also keep passes with cultivators to a minimum using a wide 6m drill and 36m sprayer.
Mr Means is not an advocate of very early drilling and loads his nitrogen towards later applications to avoid rapid early growth and heavy tillering on his inherently fertile soils.
“On our soils if you start the wheat crop too early then it’s like starting a bonfire with petrol,” he says.
This could create too thick a crop and then cause later lodging, so his 280kg/ha of nitrogen fertiliser tends to be pushed back later in the season than for many growers.
His five-way nitrogen split is aimed at applying the bulk of the fertiliser in April, May and June as his rich soils have enough fertility to encourage crop growth in the early spring.
“We look to delay nitrogen applications to give a protein enhancement to the grain and also give a yield improvement,” he says.
He has recently widen his rotation to one of eight years rather than six as his new potato-wheat-sugar beet-wheat-vining peas-wheat-sugar beet-wheat programme helps with soil fertility and also blackgrass control.
This preponderance of spring cropping means blackgrass can be controlled by one single autumn herbicide and this success means he can now hand rogue this problematic grassweed.
Like most other growers he saw low disease pressure this season, but he did squeeze in an extra T1-1/2 fungicide spray to make up a five-spray programme.
This extra spray of a triazole and chlorothalonil was aimed to give further protection against rust diseases which can be a problem in the region surrounded The Wash.
“We need to watch out for rusts and fusarium, and with heavy dews and damp nights then septoria can also be a problem,” he adds.
His 200ha farm at The Laurel, Terrington St Clement, six miles west of King’s Lynn, is only about one mile from the sea and these dews and seas breezes do also have a beneficial effect as they help minimise stress on the growing crop during summer heatwaves.
He also farms another 600ha in contract farming arrangement to allow him to spread his eight-year rotation over additional land.
“There was enough moisture in the soil while the sea breezes also helped us avoid the peaks in temperature,” he adds.
High summer temperatures can be a limiting factor as if the weather gets too hot, plants tend to shut down at grain-filling stage and so hit yields, he adds.
Looking back over the season, the only thing Mr Means might have done differently would have been to irrigate the crop in the start of June to make sure it did not suffer any drought stress.
However, he points out that his spring crops show a better return from using irrigation than wheats so they receive the water rather than his wheat crops.
The early-maturing variety Cordiale was harvested on August 13, met the miller’s quality specifications with the record winning crop coming from a 8.59ha block taken from a 33ha field.
He says that he chose Cordiale as it was the best performing variety in the difficult growing season and subsequent wet harvest of 2012.
The variety produced a remarkable high quality sample which easily met the breadmaking minimum standard of 12.5% protein, hagberg of 250 and specific weight of 76kg/hl despite high-yielding crops often seeing diluted grain protein.
The yield of the breadmaking wheat was remarkably close to the British wheat record set this year by Lincolnshire Wolds grower Tim Lamyman with 14.31t/ha of the feed variety Kielder.
This topped the previous record achieved by David Hoyles’ 14.3t/ha crop of Invicta in 2011 on his farm only 10 miles west of Mr Means.
Recipe for success at Mark Means’ farm
- Soil – Silty clay loam
- Variety – Cordiale
- Previous crop – Vining pea
- Drilling date – September 30
- Seed rate 110-120kg/ha to give 250seeds/sq m
- Autumn herbicide – Crystal (flufenacet+pendimethalin) + diflufenican
- Nitrogen use – 280kg/ha (five-way split)
- End-February – 35kg/ha+sulphur
- Mid-March – 45kg/ha
- End-April – 90kg/ha
- End-May – 40kg/ha+sulphur
- Start of June – 70kg/ha
Fungicide use (five-spray programme)
- T0 – Folicur (tebuconazole) + chlorothalonil
- T1- Aviator (bixafen+prothioconazole)
- T1-1/2 – epoxiconazole + chlorothalonil
- T2 – Aviator
- T3 – Folicur + chlorothalonil
- Harvest date – August 13
- Yield – 13.41//ha
- Specific weight – 82.9kg/hl
- Protein – 13.13%
- Hagberg – 341
- ADAS yield potential 21.3t/ha
- Potential of yield 63%
ADAS launched its YEN competition earlier this year in an effort to break through the yield barrier facing growers with the hope it will drive innovation and encourage growers to get close to their maximum potential yield. For information about registering to enter next season’s competition go to www.yen@ADAS.co.uk